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Mendenhall defends Riley in wake of BYU loss

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BOISE, Idaho (AP)

Brigham Young coach Bronco Mendenhall wasted little time in squelching any notion the Cougars will have a new starting quarterback next week.

Moments after BYU fell 7-6 to No. 24 Boise State Thursday night, Mendenhall came to the defense of lefty Riley Nelson, who threw three interceptions, failed to put any points on the board and was sent to the bench in the third quarter.

Speculation of a quarterback controversy may never have surfaced had Nelson's backup, Taysom Hill, not sparked a late, fourth-quarter scoring drive with his speed and a handful of critical throws. BYU's comeback fell short when Hill's last-ditch pass on a 2-point conversion fell incomplete.

Despite Hill's late heroics, Mendenhall says he's standing by Nelson.

''Riley is our quarterback,'' Mendenhall told reporters after the game. ''I want him to be healthy and I want him to be able to look me in the eye and tell me `Coach I am absolutely ready.' I don't have any different feelings about him than I did going into this game.''

Nelson struggled from the outset, killing one first-half scoring drive with an interception. He also fumbled once in the first half and was intercepted on BYU's first two possession in the third quarter. His second pick was returned 33 yards for a touchdown by Boise State nose tackle Mike Atkinson, the Broncos' only points of the game. Nelson finished 4 of 9 for 19 yards and was sacked twice.

Meanwhile, Hill, who grew up in Idaho and was recruited by Boise State, provided a little of the jolt the Cougar offense needed. He led the team in rushing with 72 yards on 12 carries and was 3 of 5 passing on the late scoring drive.

''Obviously I want to play, that's the competitive nature in me,'' Hill said. ''That's ultimately up to the coaches and we will just get ready and prepare for our next game.''

The Boise State defense also had a hand in Nelson's long night. The Broncos forced five turnovers and held BYU scoreless until the game's final minutes.

With 8:03 remaining, Hill, a freshman, engineered an 11-play, 95 yard drive capped by his 4-yard touchdown run. But Mendenhall gambled, electing to go for a 2-point conversion to try to secure the Cougars' first victory over Boise State.

Hill dropped back to pass, was immediately flushed out of the pocket and his running throw was deflected by linebacker J.C. Percy and fell incomplete into the end zone.

''I wanted to win,'' Mendenhall said. ''We had momentum for the first time in the game, moving the ball offensively. We wanted to capitalize on it. I'd do it again.''

The Broncos, aided by a 40-yard kick return by Mitch Burroughs, ran out the clock to notch their third straight victory over BYU.

''I'm ecstatic for what happened on'' defense, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. ''We have to go back to the drawing board on the other side. That happens sometimes.''

The BYU defense, one of the stingiest units in the nation, also played a big role in the Broncos' struggles. The Cougars came into the game allowing just 14.3 points per game and an average of 59 yards on the ground.

Boise State managed just 261 yards on offense. Running back D.J. Harper was a bright spot, rushing for 112 yards on 31 carries.

But quarterback Joe Southwick struggled again. The redshirt junior was 15 of 25 for 145 yards, and he and the offense failed to convert five fourth-down attempts.

Four of the fourth-down tries came in BYU territory, including one possession in which the Broncos failed to score after recovering a fumble on the Cougars 1. Boise State's fourth-down strategy may have been partly due to Michael Frisina missing a 33-yard field goal early in the first quarter, but the BYU defense clearly met every challenge the Broncos' offense had to offer throughout the game.

''Our defense is the focal point of this team,'' said BYU linebacker Brandon Ogletree said. ''We lead with energy and emotion and hopefully, try to pass that on to the offense. But any time that an offense has four times to score inside their own one, and you don't let them, that's the best feeling in the world as a defender.''

Tagged: Boise State, Brigham Young, Riley Nelson

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